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Mackie's theory of error: is there an objective morality?

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The human being is a gregarious and social being, who needs contact with the other members of his species to survive and adapt successfully. But living together is not easy: it is necessary to establish a series of rules that allow us to limit our behavior in such a way that respect both their own rights and those of others, rules that are generally based on ethics and morals: what is right and wrong, right and wrong, fair and unfair, worthy or unworthy, and what is considered permissible and what is no.

Since ancient times, morality has been the subject of philosophical discussion and over time of scientific research. from areas such as psychology or sociology, with multiple positions, perspectives and theories at the same time. regard. One of them is Mackie's error theory., which we are going to talk about throughout this article.

  • Related article: "Differences between Psychology and Philosophy"

Mackie's Theory of Error: Basic Overview

The so-called Mackie error theory is an approach made by the author himself according to the which each and every one of our moral judgments are erroneous and false, based on the consideration of that

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morality does not exist as an objective element, not existing moral properties in reality as such, but morality is built based on subjective beliefs. Technically, this theory would enter into a cognitivist perspective of what is called subjectivist anti-realism.

The error theory was developed by John Leslie Mackie in 1977, based on the premises of cognitivism and indicating that exist true moral judgments would be principles that guide conduct directly from and of which it would not be possible dude.

He considers that the moral judgment is a cognitive act that has the capacity to falsify, but since the moral judgment only exists insofar as there really is an always moral property as such, invariable and no possibility of interpretation.

However, since there is no such property at an absolute level, but what is or is not moral is decided by the community to which it belongs, neither can any moral judgment be true. Therefore, although it can be socially considered true for a certain group that completely shares said judgments, the moral judgment always makes the mistake of believing itself to be objective.

The author's intention is not to eliminate or consider the moral act useless (that is, he does not want to stop doing things considered fair or good), but to reform the way of understanding ethics and morality as something relative and not as an absolute universal. It's more, proposes that ethics and morality must be continually reinvented, not being something fixed to study but that has to be modified depending on how humanity evolves.

two basic arguments

In developing his theory John Mackie considers and uses two different types of arguments. The first of these is the argument from the relativity of moral judgments., arguing that what we consider moral may not be so for another person without this being wrong.

The second argument is that of singularity. According to this argument, if there are objective properties or values should be entities different from anything that exists, in addition to requiring a special faculty to be able to capture said property or value. And one more property would still be necessary, that of being able to interpret the observed facts with the objective value.

Instead, Mackie considers that what we really experience is a reaction to the vision of a fact that derives from what we have learned culturally or from the connection with our own experiences. For example, that one animal hunts another for food is a behavior that is visible to us, and that will generate different subjective impressions for each of those affected.

  • You may be interested in: "Moral relativism: definition and philosophical principles"

Morality as subjective perception: a comparison with color

Mackie's theory of error establishes, then, that all moral judgment is false or erroneous since it starts from the assumption that the moral property that we grant to an act or phenomenon is universal.

By way of analogy to make his theory more easily understandable, the author himself used the example of color perception in his theory. It is possible for us to see a red, blue, green or white object, as well as for the vast majority of people to do so.

However, the object in question does not have that or those colors by itself, since in reality when we see colors what we see is the refraction in our eyes of the wavelengths of light that the object has not been able to absorb.

The color would not be a property of the object, but a biological reaction of ours to the reflection of light: it will not be something objective but subjective. Thus, the water of the sea is not blue or the leaf of the tree is green, but we perceive them as that color. And in fact, not everyone will see the same color, as can happen in the case of a colorblind person.

The same can be said of moral properties: there would be nothing good or bad, moral or amoral, for itself, but rather that we perceive it as such based on its adjustment to our perception of the world. world. And just as a color-blind person might not perceive the color red (even if they identify a certain tone as such), another person to judge that an act that for us has a certain moral connotation has for him the directly opposite.

Although the fact that morality is something subjective today may seem logical to assume, the truth is that morality has been throughout history taken by a large number of people as something objective and invariable, often also being a reason for discrimination against groups (for example people of race, religion or sexuality different from the typical one) or practices that today we consider habitual.

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